Let me fill you in: I wrote a novel four years ago. My first reaction? Hell YEAH! Take that Stephen King. Eat my dust JK Rowling. James Patterson—who’s that?! So there it was, a completed manuscript, in my hard drive, fermenting in digital soy sauce. And you know what? I was happy. I was exuberant. I was feeling like a freakin’ genius.
I read it last week.
It was crap. Damn…
I’ve written a few rudimentary novels in my twenty-seven years alive. I really cared about this one. That’s why it hurt. That’s why it hit me hard. That’s why I’m writing about it now.
Listen up. I believe this.
I believe that all artists—directors, writers, painters, singers, rappers, poets, and interpretative mime artists—take their art seriously. Too seriously. We’re an insecure group that craves affirmation and acceptance. We want people to say: “Hey, that was awesome!” although know-one truly cares. We want people to call us a genius, when, most of the time, our best work will remain invisible.
I envision my writing craft as a Jujitsu-trained pelican. It stabs me with its bill every time I make a mistake. It hits me hard. Every time. Pelicans don’t like me. Interesting fact.
I had to be honest: Kane, you’re a crap writer. Your sock choices are horrendous, too. Idiot.
But wait. Was it really that bad?
Think break. It hit me when I was on the MRT. There are levels to crap. It’s true—every profession, every artwork, every piece of work. So I began to think: what did I really do?
I transformed a dream…into a reality.
We often don’t give ourselves credit, but sometimes, the simple act of creating is enough. Transforming a dream into a reality, something you can see, read and touch, is an incredible feat. It takes time. It takes focus. It takes blood, sweat and repeated pokes to the heart. So what if we weren’t so self critical all the time? Where would that lead us?
Here’s my advice: Just complete. See your creations through.
Create your own story—an oil painting, a film, a stick figure drawing—and finish it. Make it personal. Care about it. Love it. Don’t have sex with it. That’s weird. But love the process.
Sometimes we need to think of our work as crap to push ourselves forward. And it’s okay to admit when it’s not your best work. Sometimes we put in infinite amounts of effort, and get nothing back.
Know this: you are making better crap every time. Slow steps. There are geniuses in the world. The simple fact is all of us aren’t. So practice and go through those growing pains. Pain is growth.
Right now I’m editing the second draft of my young adults novel. I’m looking back at myself four years ago, and I can see the intention, the enthusiasm, the fire to finish. But…
Art will never be perfect.
There will always be a “better idea”, a “better sentence” or a “better shot”. Make mistakes. Learn to love them. Do better next time.
So keep going. Success is just over that hill of crap.
I went back to my old secondary school a few days back (expect a bigger post soon!).
Decided to get back in touch with some of the teachers and just experience secondary school again. I know that’s crazy. Many people want to forget. But it seems it was a good choice. I was in for more than one surprise.
After arriving I quickly met up with my old art teacher, the always enthusiastic Mr.Goh. He showed me my O’Level art piece that I painted back in 2005 hanging at one of the school staircases! He also proclaimed to his work mates that I was “his best student!”
I haven’t seen this in 7 years! I immediately had flashbacks of all the hard work I had put into this. It was the first canvas painting I have ever done on this scale.
Inspired by Salvador Dali, I wanted to create a fantasy piece merging technology and human beings. Really I was just speaking about my feelings about it and the nature of identity. It was entitled ‘The Face Factory’. Eventually, I achieved an A for this which I am, to this day, happy about!
Disregarding the grade, painting this was one of the best times of my life.
I’m a twenty five year old Eurasian male. I’m a nerd. I’m a Trekkie. I like science fiction, dinosaurs and books about a combination of the two (Jurassic Park!). I have lots of hobbies and interests but there’s one that stands out from the rest.
I’m totally obsessed with rap music. *Cue frenetic rap music video*
So what’s the odd thing about that? Well, I’m pretty convinced that it has inspired some of my best work when it comes to writing, directing and producing.
While the thought of JK Rowling or Stephen King writing a masterpiece to a Tupac song makes me smile (and wonder), there’s something else to it. Music certainly inspires all forms of art. Can rap music inspire writers?
Let me state it now. Rap music IS writing.
My fascination with rap isn’t so much about enjoying rap music. It’s more about setting up the certain mindset BEFORE YOU WRITE. (Stay with me here). Because that is essentially what it is all about. Mindset.
When I was fourteen I was quiet, introverted and only really asserted myself during drama class, where I played over the top flamboyant characters. It made the class laugh. I felt good. But..
I was scared of my potential.
I was like that for a long time. Until my friend passed me a mix tape he compiled as a lark. For a skinny white teenager, girlfriend-less and without a semblance of cool about him – listening to that tape had a profound effect on me.
It had a lot of different rappers on it: Jay-Z, Nas, Notorious B.I.G, Eminem, Tupac, Wu-Tang Klan and other rappers. Yes most of the songs contained swear words. Yes some of the songs contain violent and lewd themes. Yes they were shocking.
It was empowering. To know that so much could come out of a sentence, rhyme or ‘bar’ as rappers call it. I was an avid reader in my teens but to hear the power of words -lyrically – was something else.
It wasn’t the music. It was the electricity of the words. (Yes words have electricity)
After I migrated to Singapore, at the age of fifteen, I voraciously began searching for new rap songs and rappers to fill my imagination.
I watched international ‘Rap battles’ on websites and youtube (where two rappers go head to head like competing boxers). I wrote my own raps. I performed my own raps.
I was obsessed.
How could these rappers create such intricate connections of words, and at the same time, produce such intimate commentary about family, war, violence, love and success?
Isn’t that the aim of every writer? To combine the fluency of the pen with emotion?
Rap music and Rappers struck me as a lesson in perseverance. Of courage. Of not failing to live up to your potential. Of defying the odds.
In rap music if the cards are stacked against you – it’s not an excuse! You are either great or you are already great. No in between.
I realised to be the writer I want to be – I need to think like that. There are no excuses. No backup plan. As Yoda once famously said: “Do or do not…there is no try.” (Actually it was really George Lucas…but you get the point).
In Eminem’s case: if a single white male, desperate, terribly poor, with societies norms against him, in the dangerous streets of Detroit could do it — with just passion and skill — why couldn’t I?
It was all there. All the lessons I’d need to know about writing and being successful. Of reaching my dream of being a children’s novelist, producer and film maker.
All rappers are writers. All writers are rappers too. It’s about the electricity you put into your words and work.
My journey eventually led me to perform numerous songs rap songs at friends birthdays and gatherings. I had gained a cool factor – finally! And I wasn’t scared of my potential anymore.
Rap music isn’t so much about making green, gyrating hoes and gold teeth.
It’s about confidence. It’s about asserting yourself. It’s about saying ‘I’m better than you’ and saying it with poise and conviction. It’s about embracing passion and using words to incite the senses.
It’s about saying: “I’m gonna rule this.”
We live in a society where political correctness prevails. We can’t say we are better than someone else for fear of being labelled as egotistical or big headed.
Rap music is about celebrating your greatness. Celebrating that you are the best. Celebrating that you can make it with determination and practice.
That no matter who you are, what you look like, your past or circumstances — passion and skill always prevails.
The last line of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” sums that up perfectly. It’s a song that I listen to everyday when I need a boost, inspiration or an encouraging word. I don’t think it was even ‘scripted’.
You can do anything you set your mind to man.
Lose Yourself, Eminem
Celebrate the greatness within you once in a while. Perhaps right now you’re not the writer you want to be. Perhaps right now you don’t have the success you desire. Perhaps right now the odds are not stacked in your favor.
So what? There’s no use in complaining. Try thinking like a rapper.
Embrace pain. Push it into your words, stories and characters. Create your own electricity when you write. And know that..
One day you’re going to be the greatest (your definition of greatness.. no one else’s). One day it’s going to be your turn to reign. One day you are going to crush your enemies (your fears, your own doubts, and all those elements working against you).